Media Scene

Radio, TV vet Bea Thompson signs off

Beatrice Thompson in 2007 when she was marking 30 years in Charlotte broadcasting.
Beatrice Thompson in 2007 when she was marking 30 years in Charlotte broadcasting. Observer file photo

One of Charlotte’s most influential media voices is moving on.

Beatrice Thompson, known for her radio shows “The Front Page with Beatrice Thompson” and Sunday’s “Straight Talk with Bea Thompson” and for her TV news career before that, is leaving the microphone to become spokesperson for InnerVision, a Mecklenburg mental health nonprofit.

Since 2000, Thompson has been news and public affairs director at WBAV-FM (“V” 101.9) and WPEG-FM (“Power 98” 97.9). Her incisive, shoot-from-the-lip commentary is unmatched among Charlotte radio hosts.

Bea Thompson’s radio programs have been named the best local talk shows in a rare alignment of opinion by Creative Loafing magazine and The Charlotte Observer.

She is one of the few media personalities to have spent her entire career in her hometown. She is an Olympic High grad who returned to Charlotte in 1977 for a job at WBTV (Channel 3) after graduating from UNC Chapel Hill.

When it was time to announce important news in Charlotte’s black community, Thompson’s phone was the first one dialed.

In 1979, WBTV sent her to Shelby where a city block blew up because of a fire that reached a natural gas line, killing five. WBTV was so powerful then that she was given a special tour.

“Shelby was a small town and everybody there knew somebody in that blast, but we were from WBTV,” Thompson recalled in a 2001 interview with the Observer about the history of TV news in Charlotte.

“They set their grief aside to be helpful to us. They opened the bank so we could go up to the roof and get shots from the top. We went back to the station and I did the story and acted all brave because that’s the way you did it, and then I went to my mama and daddy’s house and put my head in my mama’s lap and cried like a baby. …

“She didn't know what the matter was with me but let me go on, stroking my hair, and when I finally quit hiccuping, I remember telling her, ‘Mama, all those folks, they all knew each other.’ 

Thompson became Charlotte’s first black female television news anchor in 1980, working on the “Good Morning” show with Jim Patterson. She left in 1985 to be a spokeswoman at Duke Power.

Three years later, she joined WCNC (Channel 36). When it started a morning newscast, she was chosen as anchor, then later reassigned. Her personality was too intense for morning TV, the news director said.

Thompson said then the real reason was that the industry favored “Barbie doll” women instead. “And I’m no Barbie doll. I’m a Raggedy Ann. A Raggedy Ann may be your favorite doll when things get tough. But when you want a showcase, you get out your Barbie doll.”

Thompson says her new job gives her more time with her new husband, Larry Reid, and, “I get a chance to enjoy this life I have been given.”

But, she says, you haven’t heard the last of her.

Which is good news.

Mark Washburn: mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com

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